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A qualified workforce : How the student loan works

25 February 2014
Mark Priestman explains how student loans work and modern apprenticeships.

Mark Priestman has more than 20 years’ experience in the natural stone sector. He plays an active role in the development and delivery of training in this specialist environment. Along with his father, David Priestman, he runs a training consultancy whose mantra is: Qualify the Workforce!

I keep being asked: “How does the student loan work?”

Since you might be considering this route to gaining a qualification, here goes.

Back in the day, higher education was largely free. Today, a student needs to self-fund beyond the compulsory education years. Some can pay outright or have benefactors who can pay for them. For those who can’t, the government invented the student loan.

The loan has parts. The first is a sum toward tuition fees. A second goes towards living costs.

A full-time student can obtain a tuition fee loan of between £6,000 and £9,000 and a part-time student can gain a tuition fee of between £4,500 and £6,500. Then there are top up sums for students living at home, not living at home in London, not living at home outside London and for those adventuring abroad for education.

My verdict: The student loan works well for full-time college and university students who haven’t established themselves in the workplace yet. But it is not a grant or funding, it does have to be paid back. For more about student loans check out

After the student loans question I am normally asked: “And what about the Modern Apprenticeship?”

First I need to clarify the different types of apprenticeship. Work-based apprenticeships are programmes designed and operated internally by firms. The firm recruits an apprentice and conducts the person through a training programme. This type of apprenticeship, or academy, is recognised by the firm and may have kudos in an industry, but it should not to be mistaken for the government’s Modern Apprenticeship.

Specialist Apprenticeship Programmes are the child of the CITB (in association with trade associations). In the stone sector, Stone Federation’s StoneTrain offers these programmes in Façade Preservation, Stone Fixing, Stone Paving and Heritage Masonry

They are open to any employee (not just apprentices) of a contractor business that can support the learner through on-site mentoring. Off-site training is kept to a minimum to decrease disruption. These programmes should lead to an NVQ. They are attractive to CITB-registered firms because grants amount to more than fees. You can find out more about StoneTrain by emailing me on [email protected] or Ian Major on [email protected]

That leaves us with the Modern Apprenticeship.

Basically, this allows you, as an employer, to take on someone as a Modern Apprentice. They must be 16+, not in full-time education and have legal status to work in the UK.

Generally, the apprentice works under the mentorship of your experienced workers, gaining on-the-job skills. Plus they complete a day release college course. At the end of their training they will have gained enough experience to enrol for NVQ assessment and get their CSCS card.

Importantly, they earn a wage, which must at least meet the national minimum wage (as all wages must). These apprenticeships don’t only have to be for younger people and can even be aimed at NVQ level 4 or a foundation degree.

In some cases firms qualify for an apprenticeship grant of £1,500, plus funding towards the training element of their employees’ apprenticeship. For more information, or to apply to start a Modern Apprenticeship, go to

My verdict on the modern apprenticeship is that it is a happy medium between college and mentoring on-site.

The challenge here is that people generally seem to show an interest in stonemasonry as a career only as they mature – usually after age 21 – when they expect an income above the national minimum wage.

Next month we will take a look at the difference between college-based training and NVQs.

Mark Priestman is a Partner at Priestman Associates LLP, a leading façade preservation project consultancy. From stonemasonry and heritage skills through to Site Supervision and Conservation Management, the partnership is trusted by the leading brands of the sector as an NVQ provider for experienced, upskiller and apprentice workers.


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